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I've always thought that a PC and A Mac were two different computing platforms, not just with in their operating systems (Windows & Mac OS) but different from hardware to thier respective internal physical components. Meaning they were two kinds of computers, but with many different proprietary operating systems. So, I assumed that unix/linux was also just an operating system that could run on either Mac or PC.

But, I keep reading people comparing PC vs MAC vs UNIX/LINUX as if there is a LINUX computer that is different from MAC/PC internally.

So, my question is: Is there actually a UNIX/LINUX computer, in the sense there is a MAC and a PC or is it just an operating system mistaken for a computer type of it's own.

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Today, they all use the same hardware. In the past, Apple, had IBM and Motorola processors. Keep in mind that in certain applications there may be some OS specific hardware that is not cross-platform compatible. –  kobaltz Mar 28 at 17:48
    
@kobaltz So if they all use the same hardware, then the only difference between a Apple and any PC (HP/ACER/DELL...) is their covers only? –  Bimlik Mar 28 at 17:50
    
@Bimlik - Pretty much. Apple does use TPM hardware. This prevents you from being able to install OS X on a Dell. You were correct, Apple at one time, did use different hardware compare to the Intel x66-AMD64` products Dell sells currently. Apple switch over to x86-64 several years ago. –  Ramhound Mar 28 at 17:54
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That a is completely different question. Think of it like gasoline. There are many different companies that sell gas (Shell, Thortons, Speedway, etc.). The gas from these companies all work and your car runs. However, there are some gas companies that I trust more than others. When I raced, I only used Shell gas in my car. Likewise with computers, if I were to build a new computer, I would only use ASUS, Gigabyte or MSI motherboards. When you get down to the specifics, it's really about which one do you feel most comfortable with and which one do you like the most. –  kobaltz Mar 28 at 17:57
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UNIX (originally from Bell Labs) and the DEC PDP and VAX systems "grew up" together. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 28 at 18:24

5 Answers 5

PC is an abbreviation for Personal Computer. It is a general-purpose computer, whose size, capabilities and original sale price makes it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator. This term was coined to differentiate between other systems at the time which where predominantly dumb terminals that connected to a mainframe on which many people would use at the same time.

Mac (Apple Macintosh) is a proprietary system built by Apple computers, which primarily uses it's own operating system Mac-OS (some enthusiasts do manage to get other OS's running). So technically a Mac, IS a PC.

Then you have what you are referring to as a PC which is more often known as IBM Compatible PC's. It is not proprietary in the sense that you can mix and match parts from different manufacturers allowing the average person to purchase parts that they require and build their own system from scratch (compared to a Mac, where they are designed to be purchased as a single unit pre-assembled, ready to go).

Now, onto the operating systems:

Windows - Owned and developed by Microsoft, i think we are all familiar with this so no explanation needed.

Unix - There are many variants of this operating system. The original Unix was developed at AT&T's Bell Labs research center by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and others. It was designed as a multi-user, multitasking operating system.

Linux - Developed originally by Linus Torvalds, it is based on the UNIX system and is very similar in many ways, however now there are many different variants (free and commercial). It is based on the open source philosophy where the source code for it is visible and modifiable by anyone who knows what they are doing (as opposed to Windows and MacOS* in a sense, where the code is proprietary and not available for the public domain).

MacOS - Originally delevoped in 1984 with the original Macintosh. It is credited with popularizing the graphical user interface concept. It was originally designed to run only on Apple Macintosh hardware systems. Interestingly, the Latest versions of Mac OS are based on a unix core system after Apple bought the company that Steve jobs worked at after he left apple which was at the time developing a Unix based operating system.

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Today, the distinctions you're referring to are almost all software (meaning the OS), and not hardware.

Historically speaking, all three of these differed in hardware:

  • PC generally referred to Intel based hardware
  • Mac referred to Apple's PowerPC based hardware
  • Unix/Linux (more so Unix) referred to main frame hardware

Nowadays, when people use these terms, they're generally referring solely to the OS, though it's largely implied that a PC is a system running Windows, Mac is a system running OSX, Unix/Linux is running Unix or Linux. The underlying hardware is generally understood to be the same general purpose Intel/AMD hardware - if someone is running on something different, they'll generally make a point to specify that they're on ARM, PPC, Alpha, etc.

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Good question.

So, before Apple decided to switch over to Intel processors - all Apple hardware used a processor architecture called Power PC. Power PC used something called a RISC (reduced instruction set computing). RISC based CPUs have an entirely different set of instructions (Opcodes, Registers, Commands, etc) than a CPU based on the Intel x86 architecture. So back when Apple was using Power PC CPUs there were major compatibility issues and you could not swap parts between Power PC and Intel based PC's.

Since Apple switched over to the Intel x86 architecture, now there are many similarities between PCs and Macs. For example, you can build what is known as a hackintosh (which is a computer that can run OS X but is not manufactured by Apple) but you need to use very specific PC hardware to accomplish this. The reason why you need specific hardware is the developers at Apple have basic assumptions regarding the hardware found inside of the computers that they sell. For example, for a given model of Mac (MacBook Air, iMac, MacBook, etc) the need to support thousands of device drivers for video cards, hard drive controllers, network cards does not exist. Apple is able to control the hardware that goes into each machine, which means the range of supported devices is fairly low. Many external devices (USB or Firewire sound cards) are supported by OS X, but this is due to the fact that 3rd parties are willing to develop drivers specifically for OS X instead of Apple having to worry about supporting a wide range of hardware.

When you see mention of PC VS MAC VS LINUX - those discussions are more in terms of the features of the operating system and the vast amount of software that is specific to each. When you are talking about Operating Systems, OS X and Linux are somewhat related. Linux was developed by Linux Torvalds in 1991 while attending the University of Helsinki. Torvalds became curious about operating systems and frustrated by the licensing of MINIX, which limited it to educational use only. He began to work on his own operating system which eventually became the Linux kernel. Torvalds began the development of the Linux kernel on MINIX, and applications written for MINIX were also used on Linux. Later, Linux matured and further Linux kernel development took place on Linux systems.

Mac OS X is based on technology originally developed for Steve Jobs NeXT computer, which was a computer based on a operating system called NeXTSTEP, which was UNIX based. The 'X' in OS X is also used to emphasize the relatedness between OS X and UNIX.

To answer your question about there being a UNIX/Linux computer is, yes there are machines that are intended to run UNIX that you could not install any version of Windows or OS X on. Sun Microssystems (now owned by Oracle) had an entire line of both desktop, laptop and server platforms that ran various versions of UNIX as well as Suns operating system called Solaris, Open Solaris, etc.

In addition to that, there are several different 'flavors' of UNIX in use today such as AIX (developed by IBM), HPUX (developed by Hewlett Packard). The primary difference between UNIX and Linux is the licensing model. Many UNIX variants are proprietary, meaning you might not necessarily have access to the source code for some or all parts of the OS. The idea behind Linux is to make everything open source, meaning the source code is available to be viewed, edited, recompiled and re-released without fear of legal action being taken against you.

Each operating system has its pros and cons. To me it all really comes down to what you are trying to do. If you want to play cutting edge games, Windows has traditionally been your best bet. However, many developers have been writing games in the past few years that will work on a PC or Linux or even Apple/Mac. In terms of the operating system GUI, I personally think Apple has the upper hand with OS X, but this point could be debated for hours between two people that have differing opinions. If you are trying to run a web server, firewall, IDS or anything to do with networking - you would want to look at what Linux has to offer. Linux has a much higher learning curve for non technical people, but has been improving a lot in that regard.

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"PC" stands for (depending on who you ask) "Portable Computer" or "Personal Computer". ("Portable" in this sense means weighing under about 75 pounds and hence theoretically capable of being carried about by one person.) As such, "PC" can be applied to any deskside/desktop/laptop/palmtop computer, regardless of it's architecture or operating system.

"Mac" refers to "Macintosh", the name of a variety of apple which was chosen by Apple computer to name their line of graphically-oriented computers. As such, "Mac" is one type of "PC".

However, in common usage (not being picky, ie) "PC" is usually used to refer to a Windows-based x86 system derived from the original "IBM PC".

UNIX is an operating system that has been around, mainly on DEC PDP-11 and VAX computers, since the 60s. (Originally developed by Bell Labs, though I don't know who owns it now.) LINUX is a UNIX "clone", with most of the same external features and APIs as UNIX but a different internal structure. It was originated in, I think, the 80s by Linus Thorvolds (sp?) as an alternative to Microsoft DOS/Windows on Intel x86 based PCs. It is free "shareware", whereas DOS/Windows and the OSx MAC operating systems are "owned" by Microsoft and Apple respectively (though, curiously, later versions of OSx are built on top of LINUX).

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Is there a UNIX/Linux computer? It's both a yes and no answer, but if you want just one, then it's No.

UNIX and Linux variants are operating systems, just like Mac OSX and Microsoft Windows.

Apple create both the underlying hardware and the operating system. Together these make a Mac.

Microsoft does not create it's own hardware for windows (semantics - yes, they make mice, and tablet PCs, etc, but leave this aside for now)

But with UNIX and Linux - well, these are quite broad families of operating systems - check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Linux_distributions and the picture at the right for an example, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Unix_systems

Windows is quite hardware agnostic - it doesn't care if you run it on an AMD or Intel or Motorola CPU, an Asus or Gigabyte motherboard, etc, etc.). As long as your computer's architecture (such as x86, x86-64, IA64, etc) matches the Windows version you are using, then it will work. Note that each "Edition" of Windows (such as Windows 7 Pro) can come in a few architectures, which is why you'll find different installation media for each version (have a look at the

Mac OSX is a little different. Mac does care what hardware you use it on. In fact, you can only use their own hardware. The operating system essentially does some checks on the hardware and won't boot or install if it's not Mac hardware. There are 'hackintosh' distributions of OSX out there which modify the behaviour of the operating system to stop caring so much.

Now, UNIX is not exactly a single operating system - there's heaps of variants but they are all similar in that they attempt to follow certain specifications (defined by various groups) on how the operating system should behave. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_UNIX_Specification and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/POSIX for some bed-time reading (literally).

Linux has multiple variants as well. They essentially mimic UNIX-like operating systems, but by using different underlying code. Linux and UNIX are similar in so many ways - but with underlying differences.

Now, are there "UNIX/Linux computers"?

Yes, there are. For example, most supercomputers use a proprietary variant of UNIX or Linux. For example, Cray's latest computers use Cray Linux Environment. IBM's Roadrunner used a variant of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). You simply couldn't get Windows or Mac to run on one of those machines.

Coming back to reality, since Supercomputers are not exactly what you were asking about, you can get workstations which run UNIX. Sun microsystems did a few, Silicon Graphics used to do some (and I think they might still do), but HP definitely still make a few. Have a look at http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/ca/en/sm/WF04a/12132708-12132710-12132832-12132832-12132832.html for a couple of HP-UX workstation offerings.

So, to look at the example above, the HP c8000 workstation uses a PA-RISC processor architecture. This workstation will only run HP-UX (officially). It could probably run some other Linux/UNIX/BSD variants with a little work, but HP won't install it for you or support the workstation if you do.

So, have we found a UNIX computer here? Not really - we've found a HP-UX computer. It won't use other UNIX variants like AIX or SCO (though, again, you could probably get them to work with a little tweaking).

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